The truth, dear readers: For the last few months (perhaps a bit longer), my Taiwan mojo has been exhausted by a combination of work stress, adulthood dramas various and sundry, and Taipei life in general.
I’ve written a hundred articles about Taipei, and will probably sing the place’s praise in print and elsewhere until I die. Taipei is a cool city, and it can even be a chill city, but – and this is the important part – only if you don’t make the mistake of falling into the trap of full-time Taipei work. Come as a tourist. Visit the highlights. Explore the historic alleyways, temples, and lanes.
But TuDiGong (one of our many local deities, found in finer shrines throughout the nation) help you if you actually decide to work in Taipei, because Taipei is an activity-crammed metropolis that barely slows down to cram food down its hungry maw between shangban and xiaban (clock-in and clock-out, for you non-Mandarin speakers), times which are themselves eternally flexible and rarely in your favor.
This brief trip to Kaohsiung is proving to be quite the antidote, and while I may feel differently tomorrow when I’m meant to be joining some sort of a press trip organized by my company and culminating in a meeting with the new Kaohsiung Mayor, I’m feeling good this evening in my baseball-themed hotel room located just east of the Liuhe Night Market.
Kaohsiung is a chill city. The last time I was here was with Stephanie on our research trip for Formosa Moon. We’d come here looking for adventure and epiphany, but the best we could come away with was if Taipei was like high-strung NYC, than Kaohsiung was more like Los Angeles. Outside of discovering that the place was pretty chill while attempting (and failing) to deliver a postcard with Portland Mayor Bud Clark’s image to the former mayor, we found no real epiphany. The chapter that came out of the trip – Success and Failure in the LA of Taiwan – is a good chapter, but definitely not among the more dramatic ones.
After living in Taipei, and, more importantly, working nearly full time there for two years, that non-epiphany (namely that Kaohsiung is a chill city) means a whole lot more to me. Nothing jumped out at me when I got off the HSR this morning, still wound up tight from having a well-meaning colleague in Taipei having had the temerity to plan out in quarter-hour increments what I’d pitched as a basic journalistic fact & fun finding mission. I hopped on a bicycle and rode around, visiting a few places she’d put on her list, ignoring a few others. It was only around sundown, hiking up Shoushan hoping to run into the monkeys who live there, that I finally started relaxing. I didn’t find the monkeys – apparently, I’d come a bit too late, but halfway up the mountain, I heard something I’d not heard for a long time in Taipei.
Silence, punctuated by the noise of night animals.
I started unwinding. Though I hadn’t logged out of work yet (heaven forbid – I still had take pictures of the Love River at night on my to-do list), I felt relaxed. I didn’t even mind having missed the monkeys.
I sat down and just…chilled.
A few evening hikers passed me going down the hill. They said good evening, and I replied in kind. After a while, I walked down the mountain until I found myself in a quiet hillside neighborhood, and, oddly enough as I’d never really lived in Kaohsiung, in the Taiwan I fell in love with way back in the mid-nineteen-nineties.
I walked a bit further, found a little outdoor restaurant and got some fish soup, digua ye (sweet potato leaves) and a fresh mixed juice for a few bucks. I walked on, and kept walking, feeling good. I stopped for a few chats, nothing heavy, nothing heavy, and – most refreshingly – completely devoid of the increasingly cloying flattery of Taipei. Just regular conversation, yi-dui-yi.
I passed through the Liuhe night market, big, spread out and relaxed, and had a few things to eat and a few more relaxed conversations before heading back to the baseball-themed hotel from which I write.
Tomorrow I’m back on the clock with the high-pressure crowd from Taipei. Tonight, I’m off the clock.
So yeah, Kaohsiung. 非常感謝.